Google did nothing wrong by collecting wifi data with the streetcar.
They drove around with a car, taking photos of the public surroundings of their car (that’s how they make StreetView). While so doing, they picked up and recorded whatever wireless signals were coming in to their car.
Now people are whining that they are being spied upon.
Does anybody really think that preventing this kind of conduct has anything to do with making our communities secure against unwanted surveillance? Is this line of defense the best we’ve got?
If you stand at your doorway, yelling at the top of your lungs about many intimate, private details of your life, is it fair to accuse a passerby of illegal (or unethical) surveillance because they happen to be recording their surroundings with an audio recorder?
There are plenty of very secure options for wireless communication. If you aren’t using any of them, that’s your prerogative. If you abstain from secure practices while at the same time communicating about sensitive issues which you bizarrely regard as private, that’s your problem.
On the bigger issue of Google being a scary monster of information collection… Sure, I see your point. While on one hand, the information they collect is, in every practice I know of, voluntary (search phrases, email contents on Gmail, advertising clicks, cookies, the Google Toolbar, and many other methods), it’s not any less scary that they know more than anybody else about the modern polity.
I’m not usually a defender of google or any other giant corporation – I’ve expressed my fair share of google skepticism. In this case, I think they’ve actually done wrong by repeatedly apologizing, but I guess that’s a PR move.
Nevertheless, their amazing (and thankless!) gift two weeks ago of releasing the VP8 codec to the public domain under an open source license was perhaps the single most significant act of bolstering independent radical journalism in the (still short) history of website-based video delivery. Still not as profound as the movement that Miro represents, I’ll grant, but big (and a LOT more expensive).
To my mind, Google gave us as $124.6 million dollar gift, and I think we have a responsibility to accept it in full if we want to take advantage of it. That means in turn taking full responsibility for our network presence. If your upload stream includes poignant, radical, inspirational content encoded in a free codec for the world to cherish, good. If your upload stream (and wireless connection) includes unencrypted content that you irrationally regard as private, bad.